The past couple of weeks have been incredibly busy for me. Consequently, I didn’t have a chance to write up a detailed review. (I have been reading as much — well, almost — as ever, so reviews will be coming). But it’s just as well I put a filler in here because I wanted to find a way to highlight some of the great books I’ve acquired over this past year but haven’t figured out how to properly review. Those of you looking for some holiday gifts for others (or yourself) might find some of the book sets I’ll be highlighting of interest. First up, these great and inexpensive Faber & Faber 80thAnniversary poetry books featuring poetry from T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, W.H. Auden, W.B. Yeats, Ted Hughes, and John Betjeman. I was fortunate enough (that is — highly fortunate!) to win these in a drawing on Nonsuch Book earlier this year. I’ve had a great time simply looking at them, let alone revisiting some of my favorite poetry (Eliot, Yeats, Auden), finally getting a handle on others (Plath and Hughes) and coming to know for the first time others (the Betjeman). These are lovely paper-on-board hardbacks, all featuring excellent cover designs that also feature on the inside cover.
I’m sure this isn’t unique, but it was Eliot as much as any one author who got me into literature. When I first read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” I had no idea what it was talking about, but there was something . . . something. I have since read it hundreds of times. I chose to write part of my thesis on “The Waste Land.” Cats is only a pleasure to me because of the parts that touch upon some of Eliot’s more serious poems, like “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.” These three poems, and several others, make this one of my favorite books of poetry in my collection. My only problem? It doesn’t have any of the Four Quartets. Not that it should, though. Plus, I already have those in a beautiful edition!
If you read my post on The Bell Jar a few weeks ago, you’ll remember that I didn’t get along with Plath’s poetry because of a particularly bad reading of “Daddy.” This collection of 46 of her poems, much from Ariel, was neglected when it arrived, even though I felt I should give it a shot. But since I enjoyed The Bell Jar so much, I’m determined to make it through these. A place to start? “Daddy.” Which is brilliant to me now.
This Auden collection is a great survey of his poems in some bit of chronological order, starting with “The Watershed” in 1927 and ending with “No, Plato, No” from 1973. In the middle are some well known anthologized classics, like “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” “Musée des Beaux Arts,” and “Et in Arcadia Ego.” There are dozens of other treasures here. There is a reason Auden is venerated so.
Even though I made Eliot a subject of my study, I’ve read much much much more Yeats. I picked up Oxford’s Complete Yeats in college and read it cover to cover, including his plays and his bizarre theories on the gyres and the moon and history — a strange trip, but truly necessary to understand “Sailing to Byzantium” and “The Second Coming” — not that these poems suffer much without such knowledge. I love Yeats, and besides my Oxford Complete, this is a great collection even taking away its cover.
Ted Hughes. One of those poets I managed to never read in college and graduate school. I admit I haven’t made it through this collection yet, but I’m now so intrigued — again, Plath did this to me. His poems are tight and melancholic, reminding me of some of my favorite contemporary poets, like Stephen Dunn. I’ll have to do more reading here before I offer more comments, but that certainly doesn’t sound unappealing.
Not only did I manage to finish my academic studies without reading any Betjeman, I never even heard of him until I got this book. He’s one of those who came from Oxford in the 1920s, but his poetry hearkens back to an older form that what I’d expect from that pedigree. Just check out this first stanza from “Death in Leamington”:
She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the ev’ning star
That shown through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa.
Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have work’d it
Were dead as the spoken word.
Why, this sounds Victorian to me. Or even the beginning of a Romantic narrative. Again, I haven’t made it through this book, and again, going through it is something I’m looking forward to.
I’m not sure how long these book will be available — as I said, they make up a special collection celebrating Faber & Faber’s 80th birthday. The good news is that they are marked at UK £8. Those of you in the U.S., I’m not sure if they’re even available here — but don’t let that stop you from enjoying them. Go to the Book Depository and take advantage of their free international shipping. And even if the physical aesthetics of these books don’t appeal, I highly recommend getting to know the poets.